Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
I was not meant to be part of the space – and indeed I wasn’t – but by a stroke of duty and fate owing to the support function I was playing, I found myself intermittently sitting through and listening to some of the sessions and conversations held during the recently ended Southern African Young Women’s Festival (SAYWF 2012). I hadn’t previously imagined that it would be possible for any reference to be made to women as ‘Vaginas’, although I had heard of the famous ‘Vagina Monologues’ play from some of the young women I interact with in Swaziland during the course of my work.
So it was that over one hundred and thirty Vagina Warriors gathered at the eZulwini Valley, Swaziland’s beautiful tourist hub, to ‘combat oppressive systems and create alternatives for young women’ – a theme that blended quite well with Swaziland’s status as a country in crisis. And, what an event it was! Thanks to the hosts, the Swaziland Young Women's Network (SYWON), the dust is still settling in Swaziland even though we have had rains aplenty and I’m sure the reverberations are sounding throughout the region.
They came from all corners of the SADC region – Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone – and the Vaginas spoke. Ferociously they spoke and not in monologues! I was fascinated by the very nature, character and tone of the gathering. The construction of the space was such that there would, as in my case, be that odd man present once in a while (a waiter replenishing water, the video crew, etc.) – but we were a rarity, like finding ice in a fire.
How intimidating this was to us males (on the few occasions we happened to eavesdrop!) but it created an atmosphere of safety and openness where the Young Vaginas spoke freely without inhibition. They spoke about feminism, health, money, power and sex and how each of these combined in defining their lives and affecting their rights. They spoke about how to harness the power that comes with money, the independence and the creation of a new kind of woman – a woman in control of herself and her surroundings; a woman – or Vagina rather – who leads the world and stands up for her rights and human dignity; a young woman of today and the future.
The Vaginas spoke about culture and how this is invariably used to rob them of their worth. They spoke about their right to dress as they please without harassment and ogling, especially in countries such as Swaziland where the bus rank has become notorious for brutalising young women for their dress style. They debated on the substance of culture and its application; they spoke about education rights and paid tribute to Malala Yousufzai, the young woman from Afghanistan whose life was almost taken by the Taliban just for fighting for the girl child’s right to an education.
They spoke about sexuality and reproductive health rights; they were coached on resource mobilisation, mentorship and the use of ICTs to enhance their work; they spoke out against abuse and violence against women and performed poetry, song and dance in celebration of their stature and existence as young women.
Looking into their eyes – fleetingly and furtively – one could tell they were excited; one could tell they loved the space and that something was building up deep within their souls. This inexplicable thing is the thing we cannot describe in indicators of success or outcome deliverables – it’s the kind of thing that transforms people from the inside and really marks the beginning of the positive change process.
And so the Vaginas spoke.
The question now is: were they heard? Did the Deputy Prime Minister of Swaziland, Themba Masuku, hear their pleas for the country to abide by, and implement, international laws governing the protection of women’s rights? Did he listen when they demanded the fast-tracking of the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill? Did the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Mgwagwa Gamedze, who was standing in for the Youth Minister, listen?
Did the men gathered for the Social Messaging event get the message? Did OSISA listen to the voices of the Young Vaginas? Did the region listen and are we all going to act to help them realise their aspirations?
One thing is clear to me, the Vaginas have spoken, and we must now act! We must act to safeguard their right to meet and organise; protect their right to human dignity and equality, to participation and equal opportunities, to access to wealth and health, education and life in all its fullness.
Long live the young Vaginas!ShareThis